Go in Grace seems all the more admirable in terms of clarity and modesty when seen after Memoria, created by Ailey in 1979 in honor of dancer-choreographer Joyce Trisler, who died that year. Trisler was an important figure in his history. He’d known her since their days as performers in the Los Angeles group run by Lester Horton. She had performed with AADC, in addition to choreographing for her own Danscompany. Her beautiful solo Journey appeared on and off in the Ailey repertory. She was teaching at the Ailey school. Memoria was made while the choreographer was deep in grief. Lyrical, effusive, and sometimes incoherent, it presents his friend as a noble, searching figure—first dressed in a long white gown, later in a flaming red one. Trisler, with whom I danced in the early days of her company, was frank, smart, funny, and an extremely skilled choreographer (the last thanks in part to the mentorship of Doris Humphrey). Ailey was not so much making a portrait of her as deifying her through mourning.

Certain gestures recognizable at the work’s premiere as being from Trisler’s choreography—notably Journey—have eroded over time (I’m thinking especially of the way she pressed her hands over her ears, as if to shut out the siren call of Charles Ives’s The Unanswered Question). However, the company, as you’d expect, performs every step ardently. Linda Celeste Sims is beautiful and eloquent as the central figure, and her two mysterious cavaliers (Machanic and Clifton Brown) attend her nobly. There are fine passages early on for couples in white who soar through (and some especially excellent dancing by Rushing), but the stage becomes weighed down with a kind of confectionary architecture of loss, spooling along to the music of Keith Jarrett. A small ensemble in long, plain modern-dance dresses appears. So does a 25-member cohort of students from the Ailey School, all clad in various bright, bi-colored ensembles (perhaps they, and the joyous wiggle that Sims puts into her dancing in the second section, represent the nightclub part of Lester Horton’s work). In the end, they cluster around Sims and lift her high, so that she turns into a single tongue of flame.

The audience loves the Ailey dancers, and with good reason. Spectators are also primed for ecstasy, particularly when it comes to Revelations. It’s not just that this is a great work; it’s an applause machine, and spectators often act as if they’ve taken a course called “When to Clap During Rev.” They applaud before the curtain goes up. Sometimes they clap if the woman in the sublime duet “Fix Me Jesus” lifts one leg high in front of her and then arches very far back, supported only by her partner’s outstretched hand gripping hers (a distortion on the dancer’s part of the duet’s meaning and ambiance). Their palms start whacking together in rhythm as soon as “Rocka My Soul” strikes up. By the time they’ve coaxed the performers into an encore, folks are waving their arms and dancing in the aisles. They’ve had the Revelations experience.

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Hope Boykin’s "Go in Grace"
Paul Kolnik
The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Hope Boykin’s "Go in Grace"

Details

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
City Center
131 West 55th Street
212-581-1212
December 3 through January 4

I feel it too, even if aspects of it rile me. Tears inevitably come to my eyes during “Rocka My Soul.” I’m lifted high by the wonderful gusto of the old spiritual; the lively, well-designed patterns; the simple, gutsy movements without a hint of balleticism or show-off steps; and the dancers’ generosity and transcendent spirit.

The performance of Revelations that I saw programmed with Memoria and Go in Grace was an uneven one—some ups, some downs (like a strangely disconnected rendition of “Fix Me Jesus” by Constance Stamatiou and Jamar Roberts). For me, the high of the whole evening was Brown’s performance of “I Want to Be Ready.” He draws a consistent thread of meaning and emotion through this powerful solo, in which a man strains in different ways to rise from the floor and keeps being pulled down. Taut, constrained, reticent, Brown keeps the desire for salvation simmering through his body. You can’t take your eyes off him; you can barely breathe; and when he’s done, applause seems an inadequate reward.

I hope you drop by City Center to see this, Alvin.

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